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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Double degree woes

I've often been asked by other students whether undertaking a double degree in Eng/Law is hard. I usually reply that it's not especially hard, but that it's spectacularly long. I mention six years and they start looking at me as though I were insane. Aside from the length of time it takes to complete a double degree though, double degree students face other doubling related problems.

The chief among these is the problem of maintaining interest in both branches of your degree. This can be difficult, especially if your chosen branches are as diametrically opposed (so they tell me) as Law and Engineering. The main thing is that if the two branches have little in common, then that which you have learnt in one branch won't directly help or link with, your learning in the other branch.

Related to this problem, is the problem of year-level drift. Again, at Monash, with Eng/Law, this problem is especially pronounced. The manner in which the course is (was) structured means that in first year you take no law units, in second year you take two semester-long units, in third year you take another two semester-long units, in fourth year you take four semester-long units, and in the fifth and sixth years, you take straight law.

YearNo. of Law Units
First0
Second2
Third2
Fourth4
Fifth8
Sixth8

Table 1: Distribution of Semester-long Law Units in Monash Eng/Law (following 2004 course structure).

Now, straight law is 4 units a semester or 8 units a year, so it's easy to see that even in fourth year, you'll still be doing first year law units. The difficulty with year-level drift is twofold: firstly, you travel a different year-level path to your coursemates, which can be a very lonely experience, and secondly, you find that the difficulty level of the two branches can become very disparate. In my case, I'm studying third year Chemical Engineering subjects concurrently with a first year Law subject.

This year-level difference effects me personally more than any mere differences in subject matter would. The significance is in the difficulty level of the material presented. Generally, you don't notice it overly much in the course of your studies, (or at least I didn't), but as your course progresses at university, the material you deal with becomes both more difficult and more specialised. So while the third year engineering units are both difficult and specialised, the first year law unit is relatively easy and general.

It has been a struggle for me change between the mindset required for conceptually difficult, time intensive, specialised work to the mindset required for relatively straightforward, less time intensive, general type work. When I'm in the right mood for my third year subjects, my law unit seems overly straightforward and dull. When I'm in the right mood for my law subject, my engineering units seem to be overly-specialised techno-babble. In both cases, I tend to lose track of the other branch of the double degree. In the engineering case I lose track because I'm not able to understand the concepts or the mathematics, and in the law case I lose track because I cease paying sufficient attention during lectures.

I think I must have masochistic tendencies though, since I've nonetheless found the Eng/Law degree to be a worthwhile experience so far. (Hey, I love exams, loved running around stressed during the Monash Orientation Carnival, and fully intend to take both Taxation Law and Advanced Taxation Law: I must be a glutton for pain.)

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